A Slapstick Summer’s Fling

March 22, 2010

Despite its clear homage to slapstick silent film and the likes of Jacques Tati, Rumba (2008) is most strikingly an exercise in colour theory. Careful and detailed art direction focussing on wardrobe, framing and set design are used to heighten the contrast between the film’s alternate tonal directions: fortune and misfortune.

The plot is at once simple and convoluted; perfect for its simplicity, not in spite of it. Fiona and Dom are school teachers whose lives are somewhat banal and ordinary by day, but whose vibrancy and verve emerges en force when they rumba by night. Having entered and won a dance competition, the couple are temporarily on top of the world, but a case of wrong place, wrong time instantly and irreversibly changes the course of their lives.

Despite their newest ailments – Fiona is missing a leg and Dom his memory – the pair muddle on as best they can, determined to make the good a bad situation. In true slapstick style, even the smallest of mishaps sets in motion a sequence of cause and effect lunacy paralleled only by the likes of Buster Keaton and his contemporaries. The hint of pantomime is well matched to the quirky sensibility specific to French farce, which is naturally and seamlessly brought into the mix.

Immediately after the incident there is a turn in the film’s visual style marked by a stand out sequence whereby Fiona’s beautiful, bold red rumba dress literally unravels, revealing a stark, drained colour palette of neutral tones; white underwear and sallow skin. From this moment on what ensues is a series of images drained and faded from the saturated reds, blues, yellows and greens that came before.

Gradually, as events resolve themselves, the pair rediscover and rekindle their love in accordance with a slow and strong re-saturation of colours onscreen. No sooner have the pair reunited, the plot resolved itself, and another dance sequence ensues; prime colours coming together in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of promise and joy.

The wit is very dry and occasionally errs on the side of acerbic to great comedic effect. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon are unfalteringly straight-faced throughout the most absurd happenings which is a credit to their abilities not just as actors, but as writer/directors in equal measure. Well observed and well measured in every way Rumba is careful not to lose its audience and the film runs at a short but sweet seventy-seven minutes.

Not a film that will change your life, Rumba is like a perfect pudding or a holiday fling; the sensation of indulging in a guilty pleasure left to linger at the level of flirtation. Light hearted and removed from any sense of false sentimentality, Rumba is a vibrant interlude of visual entertainment.

Rumba is available on DVD from March 22nd through Network Releasing. Special features include deleted scenes, bloopers, trailer, Rumba: step by step and a Q&A with Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon at the ICA.

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